Saturday, February 27, 2021 Livestream Sunday, Feb. 28, 3 PM ET: Florence Price, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, George Walker & William Grant Still

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Program Notes

PRICE: Five Folksongs in Counterpoint for String Quartet

Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953) is considered the first black woman in the United States to be recognized as a symphonic composer. Even though her training was steeped in European tradition, Price’s music consists of mostly the American idiom while revealing her Southern roots. Her mother, a soprano and pianist, carefully guided her early musical training, and at age fourteen, she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music with a major in piano and organ. She studied composition and counterpoint with George Chadwick and Frederick Converse, writing her first string trio and symphony in college, and graduating in 1907 with honors and both an artist diploma in organ and a teaching certificate. She taught in her native Arkansas from 1907–1927 and married Thomas J. Price, an attorney, in 1912.After a series of racial incidents in Little Rock, particularly a lynching that took place in 1927, the family moved to Chicago where Price began a new and fulfilling period in her compositional career. She studied composition, orchestration, and organ with the leading teachers in the city including Arthur Olaf Anderson, Carl Busch, Wesley La Violette and Leo Sowerby and published four pieces for piano in 1928. While in Chicago, Price was at various times enrolled at the Chicago Musical College, Chicago Teacher’s College, Chicago University and American Conservatory of Music, studying languages and liberal arts subjects as well as music. Price’s friendship with the young composer Margaret Bonds resulted in a teacher-student relationship and the two women began to achieve national recognition for their compositions and performances. In 1932, both Price and Bonds submitted compositions for the Wanamaker Foundation Awards. Price won first and second place with her Symphony in E minor and for her Piano Sonata. Bonds came in first place in the song category, with a song entitled Sea Ghost. The Chicago Symphony, conducted by Frederick Stock, premiered the winning composition, Symphony In E Minor on June 15, 1933. A number of Price’s other orchestral works were also played by the WPA Symphony Orchestra of Detroit and the Chicago Women’s Symphony.

Price wrote other extended works for orchestra, chamber works, art songs, works for violin, organ anthems, piano pieces, spiritual arrangements, four symphonies, three piano concertos, and a violin concerto. Some of her more popular works are: Three Little Negro Dances, Songs to a Dark Virgin, My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord for piano or orchestra and voice, and Moon Bridge. Price made considerable use of characteristic black melodies and rhythms in many of her works. Her “Concert Overture on Negro Spirituals,” “Symphony in E minor,” and “Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint” (aka Five Folksongs in Counterpoint) for string quartet, all serve as excellent examples of her idiomatic work. Deeply religious, Price frequently used the music of the black church as material for her arrangements. In 1949, Price published two of her spiritual arrangements, “I Am Bound for the Kingdom,” and “I’m Workin’ on My Buildin’,” and dedicated them to the black contralto Marian Anderson, who performed them on a regular basis.

COLERIDGE-TAYLOR: Clarinet Quintet

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was an English composer and conductor born in London of mixed race. His father was from Sierra Leone and his mother from England. Coleridge-Taylor, like Mozart, was quite prolific as a composer but would also suffer the similar fate of dying young – in his mid-30s (37 years old of pneumonia). He was admitted to the Royal College of Music in 1890 as a violinist and would compose his impressive Te Deum setting in the same year. His early works were for chamber ensembles and reflected the influence of Brahms, later turning to larger works for orchestra and chorus. Coleridge-Taylor found himself particularly drawn to the music of Dvořák much like the audiences of his native land, and like his idol, he found himself drawn to the music of America and that of the Black culture there. By 1896, Coleridge-Taylor was already earning a reputation as a composer and was later helped by Edward Elgar, who recommended him to the Three Choirs Festival where his “Ballade in A minor” was premiered. His early work was also guided by the influential music editor and critic August Jaeger of music publisher Novello. Jaeger told Elgar that Coleridge-Taylor was “a genius.” In 1898, he composed the cantata Scenes from “The Song of Hiawatha,” which became one of his most popular works. He made three visits to the United States early in the 20th century, and the White orchestral musicians of New York were so impressed by his conducting skills, they dubbed him the “African Mahler.”During the 1890s while still a student, Coleridge-Taylor composed in rapid fashion several works of chamber music including a Piano Quintet (c. 1893), a Nonet (c. 1893), a Piano Trio (1893), Fantasiestücke for String Quartet (1895), the Quintet in F-sharp for Clarinet and Strings, Op. 10 (1895), and a lost String Quartet (1896). He presented the Clarinet Quintet to his teacher Charles Villiers Stanford, who later shared it with Brahms’ friend and violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim during a trip to Berlin in 1897. Joachim apparently played it privately with colleagues, all of whom were quite impressed. While Brahms’ influence is apparent in most Coleridge-Taylor works, Dvořák and the use of folk songs is most prominent in the Clarinet Quintet.

WALKER: Molto Adagio from String Quartet No. 1

George Walker (1922-2018) was a remarkable Black American composer, pianist, and organist who was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, awarded in 1996 for his composition Lilacs. Walker was born in Washington, D.C. His father emigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica and became a physician. Walker’s mother supervised his first piano lessons at 5 years old. He attended Oberlin Conservatory as a piano and organ student and in 1939 became the organist for the Graduate School of Theology of Oberlin College. He graduated at 18 from Oberlin with highest honors in his Conservatory class and was admitted to the Curtis Institute of Music to study piano with Rudolf Serkin, chamber music with William Primrose and Gregor Piatigorsky, and composition with Rosario Scalero (a student of Samuel Barber). Walker graduated from the Curtis Institute with Artist Diplomas in piano and composition in 1945, becoming one of the first black graduates of the music school.

As a composer, Walker’s music has been influenced by a wide variety of musical styles due to his exposure to the music of Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven, jazz, folk songs, and church hymns. Unwilling to conform to a specific style, Walker drew from his diverse knowledge of previous music to create something which he could call his own. While a work such as Spatials for Piano uses twelve-tone serial techniques, Walker would also write in the style of pop music such as in his song Leaving. According to Mickey Terry, traces of old black spirituals can also be found in his second Sonata for Violin and Piano. D. Maxine Sims has stated that Walker’s piano technique is also reflected in his works, such as his Piano Sonata No. 2. This sonata contains changing meters, syncopation, and bitonal writing which all present great challenges for a performer.Walker offered the following note at the front of the published score to his first String Quartet:“String Quartet No. 1 was composed in 1946 after my graduation from the Curtis Institute of Music and my debut recital as a pianist in Town Hall, New York and as a soloist with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in the 3rd Piano Concerto of Rachmaninoff at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. . . . The second movement (Molto Adagio of Walker’s String Quartet), after an introduction that recurs at the very end, alternates linear melodic phrases, imitated in all parts, with measures of repose. This movement was excised from its original context, arranged for string orchestra and titled, LYRIC FOR STRINGS. It has been performed in this setting by many of the major orchestras and chamber ensembles in this country.

STILL: Suite for Violin and Piano

William Grant Still (1895-1978) was an American composer of nearly 200 works, including five symphonies, four ballets, eight operas, over thirty choral works, plus art songs, chamber music and works for solo instruments. Often referred to as the “Dean of Afro-American Composers,” Still was the first American composer to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera. Still is known primarily for his first symphony, Afro-American Symphony (1930), which was, until 1950, the most widely performed symphony composed by an American. Born in Mississippi, he grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, attended Wilberforce University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and was a student of George Whitefield Chadwick and Edgard Varèse.Of note, Still was the first African-American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, the first to have a symphony (his 1st Symphony) performed by a leading orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television. Due to his close association and collaboration with prominent African-American literary and cultural figures, Still is considered to be part of the Harlem Renaissance movement.In 1943, Still wrote his Suite for Violin and Piano, which took as its inspiration from three sculptures: Richmond Barthé’s African Dancer, Sargent Johnson’s Mother and Child, and Augusta Savage’s Gamin. Each of these works was created in the 1930s and each artist was associated with the Harlem Renaissance.The first movement of the Suite is “Suggested by Richmond Barthé, African Dancer.” Barthé (1901-1989) came to New York from school at the Art Institute of Chicago where it was his anatomy class that shifted Barthé’s attention away from painting and towards sculpture. Bought in 1933 by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the same year he created it, the statue captures a figure in the extasy of dance. Formally, it’s considered a conservative piece for the 20th century – there’s little in the way of abstract or avant-garde in it. At the same time, presenting a black figure in a non-racist manner was radical for the time. The music conveys the urgency in the image that, in a way, the sculpture is unable to express. The music presents a number of different tempos, as of a dance, all with a blues twist to the melody. The second movement, “Suggested by Sargent Johnson, Mother and The second movement, “Suggested by Sargent Johnson, Mother and Child,” gives us a number of works that might have been the inspiration. Mother and Child can refer to any number of sculptures and paintings that Johnson (1887-1967) created with that title. Writers believe that the large number of works with that title might stem from the fact that he was orphaned at age 15 and spent some time in foster homes, some time with his aunt and uncle, and later with his grandparents. He and his five siblings were separated by the grandparents, who sent the girls to schools in Pennsylvania and the boys to schools in Massachusetts. Although associated with the Harlem Renaissance, Johnson was based in San Francisco. Born in Boston, his family changes took him to Chicago and then, in 1915, to San Francisco. His sculpture is noted for its clean lines, and on conveying the natural dignity of the figure. A similar minimal line is found in his drawing. Still’s Mother and Child, the slow middle movement, takes us to a work that seems more like a lullaby – gentle movements and a slow rocking rhythm. The movement was later made into a separate piece for string orchestra.The final movement, “Suggested by Augusta Savage, Gamin,” takes a bust by a young sculptor and puts in solidly in the world of the blues. The insouciance of the figure is taken up by the violin in a way that conveys all the mischievousness inherent in the bust. Gamin dates from early in Savage’s career and it won her a scholarship to travel to Europe. The figure may have been inspired by a homeless boy on the street or perhaps the artist’s nephew. One writer saw in the figure “child’s expression appears much wiser than his years, suggesting he has seen much hardship.” The wrinkled shirt and cap do much to convey his difficulties in life.Throughout the Suite, William Grant Still brings elements of popular music, blues figures, and syncopated rhythms to the salon. Each movement, based on three different artists with three very different styles, brings us the classical three-movement Fast-Slow-Fast tempo changes, but in a very modern manner.


Deep River is an anonymous African-American spiritual, popularized by Henry Burleigh in his 1916 collection Jubilee Songs of the USA. The song was first mentioned in print in 1876, when it was published in the first edition of The Story of the Jubilee Singers: With Their Songs, by J. B. T. Marsh. By 1917, when Burleigh completed the last of his several influential arrangements, the song had become very popular in recitals. It has been called “perhaps the best known and best-loved spiritual.” The melody was adopted in 1921 for the song Dear Old Southland by Henry Creamer and Turner Layton, which enjoyed popular success the next year in versions by Paul Whiteman and by Vernon Dalhart. Deep River has been sung in several films. The 1929 Show Boat featured it mouthed by Laura La Plante to the singing of Eva Olivetti. Paul Robeson famously sang it accompanied by male chorus in the 1940 movie The Proud Valley. Deep River is also one of five spirituals written into the 1941 oratorio A Child of Our Time by Michael Tippett. An operatic adaptation was sung by Denyce Graves at the memorial service for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she was taken to lie in state on September 25, 2020.For violinists, there is no better-known adaptation than the one arranged by violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz. Heifetz wrote his version for violin and piano in 1938, and it has become a popular encore for countless concert violinists in recital.

CLAY: Millennium Suite

Aaron Clay (b. 1967) began composing for violin and double bass within a year of the formation of the string duo “Bridging the Gap,” which Clay cofounded with his friend and colleague of the Marine Band, violinist Peter Wilson. When Wilson and Clay committed to performing together as a duo, the existing repertoire conceived for the violin and double bass as a duo was scarce. Early in their collaboration, they transcribed or arranged several pieces, but it was simply a matter of time before they would begin composing original works for the duo. Following their first appearance on the “Millennium Stage” at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1998, Clay was inspired by the fast-approaching Y2K and composed a larger concert work entitled MILLENNIUM: Suite for Violin and Double Bass. In this rich and powerful three-movement work, Clay does not shy away from the extremes in range and color presented by these instruments. In fact, he embraces their differences and proves that together their sound is compatible, vivid, and fresh. From the tag-team cadenzas that open and close “The Awakening” to the deeply passionate “Forgotten Angels,” this tour de force concludes with “Escape from History,” a presto movement that can stand alone as an exciting encore.

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